Monday, August 31, 2015
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
A sermon based on Ephesians 4:30–5:2
Sunday, August 16th, 2015 – Pentecost 15B
Judah's shoes are sometimes hard to find. But it's not like it was with me when I was a kid—I'd take my shoes off somewhere in the house but could never find where that place was when it was time to leave. No. Jude is pretty responsible and usually takes his shoes off right by the door and leaves them there until it's time to leave the house.
But sometimes they're not where he left them. It's not gremlins that take them at night or a special elf. No. We all know who it is. It's Joel.
Joel is at a fun age. He wants to be just like his big brother. If he can, he'll wear the same shirt that Judah wears. He'll do whatever activity that Judah is doing. And it seems that one of his favorite things to do right now, is to puts on Jude's shoes and walk all over the house with them on.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And if that's true, and I believe there is some truth in that, then Joel really likes his big brother, Judah.
Well in our text for this morning, the Apostle Paul encourages us to flatter God in the sincerest way: We should imitate him. Imitate him in the way he shows love and compassion to everyone. Imitate him in the way he forgives, forgiving those who sin against us. Our text is from Ephesians 4:30–5:2…
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
5:1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Now, literally the word, "compassionate" means that you are willing to suffer for someone else. "Com" means "with" and "passion" is the Latin word for suffering. So the word describes how one cares so much about another person that he or she will make great sacrifices to show that love; that the one showing compassion will even "take it on the chin" when the other person is rude to them.
When I think "compassion," I think of a woman I know who served her husband faithfully as his Alzheimer's worsened year after year. And I don't know if you were aware of this, but Alzheimer's doesn't just affect memory, but it greatly affects emotions. He recognized his wife still, but he no longer spoke tender, loving words to her. Instead he shouted at her, called her "devil woman," and heaped verbal abuse on her. And though she cried at home, when she was with him, she loved him and cared for him, and prayed for him and with him, and took the abuse.
That's compassion. And that's not easy to do, is it? To, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice."
It's especially tough when someone's in your face, with abusive words accompanying the spittle that hits your cheek. It's hard to love another when that love seems totally undeserved! But that's exactly what God calls for us to do. To love those who don't deserve it.
So how well do you show compassion to those you know? Sadly we often show the least amount of compassion to those that we're closest to! And instead of mimicking God and forgiving the other person and showing undeserved love, we often mimic the other person and mirror their rudeness and return insult for insult, disrespect for disrespect, anger for anger. And in doing so, we really mimic satan as we make ourselves out to be more important than God, more deserving of respect than he. After all, we don't show him the love and respect that we are so quick to demand for ourselves.
And when we behave this way, even if we only think it and feel it while keeping a calm and cool exterior, we stink before God. Our attitudes make a stench before him that is more disgusting to a holy God than the offensive smell of fish guts rotting at the dump is to you and to me. It's a stench that reeks so badly that God cannot be near it. And he cannot let such a stink into his heaven any more than you would let a bin of fish waste into your bedroom.
Yes, we used to stink "to high heaven" as the expression goes. But here's what's so amazing about God's love: He loved us even when we reeked of our disgusting attitudes that made us out to be more important than anyone else, that made us out to be more important than God. Here's how much he loved us: "Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
Jesus lived a sinless life in every way. Every act of obedience to God was like a sweet smelling perfume, like your favorite cologne, or like the smell of your favorite meal in the oven or on the stove. That's what his obedience smelled like to the Father. And his death… Ah! What a pleasing aroma it was to God!
I bet the temple courts didn't usually smell very good. Just imagine the smell of all of those animals that were sacrificed every day. I bet they not only smelled like a barn on the outside, but when they were bled and gutted, the smell must have been even worse. Then add the smell of burning hair and flesh and not to mention sweaty priest. It must have been pretty gross. But to God, those scents all mingled into a fragrant smell—maybe something like a delicious barbecue to him. Not because he was going to eat the cattle or sheep, but because it pointed ahead to Jesus.
Likewise, I doubt Jesus smelled springtime fresh as he was dying on the cross. The smell of the tortured crucified mingled with the body odor of the soldiers must have attracted the flies. But to God, that day smelled like a rose garden! Even better! It was a fragrant offering—that sacrifice to God.
And as a result of Jesus sacrifice… "In Christ God forgave you."
You are forgiven of every sin—of every bitter attitude, of every moment of rage and anger, of any brawling, of your slander of another person or even of God. You are forgiven for every form of malice. You are perfect and sinless and holy because of that fragrant offering that Jesus made.
And in a sense, you are now branded. Still today ranchers will take a hot iron and burn the hair and flesh of the side of their cattle with a unique brand that marks that cow or sheep as their own. That's sort of what God has done for you. "You were sealed for the day of redemption," Paul says. Through faith in Jesus, God has marked each of you as belonging to him. He did that at your baptism or when you came to believe in him. You belong to him. And on Judgment Day, God will see that mark of faith and recognize that you belong to him. You will be redeemed and not condemned.
And more than cattle, God even calls us his "dearly loved children"! That is, he promises to be our Father and to care for us in every way! He will provide for our needs! He will protect us and our faith! He will come to the rescue from every problem one day soon.
And all of this is true only because, "Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God," so that, "In Christ God forgave you."
So how do we respond? We long to flatter God and show our thanks to him. And the sincerest form of flattery? Imitation. "Be imitators of God, therefore…" Paul says, in view of all that he has done for you: in loving you and giving himself up for you as a sacrifice, in forgiving you every sin, in making you his dearly loved child. So now, we mimic God and act just like him.
"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other…"
That's the flattery that God loves. You don't like it when someone flatters you with words alone then does the opposite of what you ask. You'd call that person "two-faced," "hypocritical," "a scoundrel." No the flattery we want is to have someone show us love in their actions as well as in their words. So too, God wants us to mimic his love that didn't just speak, but acted on our behalf, sacrificed himself, and that even when we were rude and downright rebellious to him.
And as difficult as it may sound, we can mimic God. You can, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." You can "take it on the chin" even when others are rude to you. How? In Christ. In Christ, we can forgive others. In Christ, we want to forgive others. In Christ, we can love others. In Christ, we want to love others. Empowered by the undeserved love he showed to us, we will show undeserved love to others.
And this isn't just something we do once or twice, forgiving for a big sin, then showing compassion through a single act. No! It's the very life that we live every day! "Be imitators of God… and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us…" Jesus didn't just love us once and then was done with us, but he loves us and forgives us and cares for us every day. That's how we love others as we mimic God.
And if we all loved each other and forgave each other the same way that God has loved us in Christ, can you imagine how wonderful it would be?! Imagine if you were always showing the same sacrificial love to your spouse as God showed to you. Imagine if your spouse loved you that way. Imagine if you were always showing the same sacrificial love to your kids as God showed to you. Imagine if your kids loved you that way. Imagine if you were always showing the same sacrificial love to your parents as God showed to you. Imagine if your parents loved you that way. Imagine if you were always showing the same sacrificial love to your friends as God showed to you. Imagine if your friends loved you that way. Imagine if you were always showing the same sacrificial love to your coworkers as God showed to you. Imagine if your coworkers loved you that way. In short, it would be heaven on earth, wouldn't it?
Well, friends, we have the power to start loving our spouses, kids, parents, friends, and coworkers with the same love that God has showed to us. And as dearly loved children, we will mimic God as we do all we can to flatter him in thanks for the love and forgiveness he's given to us.
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Out with the Old; In with the New
A sermon based on Ephesians 4:17-24
Sunday, August 9, 2015 – Pentecost 11B
So the other day I told my wife that I want a new kitchen appliance: I want to get an air fryer that fries your food with little or even no oil. I think it might make delicious, but healthier, fried foods. But just the idea of adding one more kitchen appliance to our counter led Becky and I into a, well… a discussion, of just how many kitchen appliances we need, and where exactly are we to store these new kitchen appliances. If I want an air fryer, I have to get rid of something else to make room for it. I had several suggestions for her of what we could be rid of, but she didn't like any of them. We're still in negotiations. J
But that's often the way it works, doesn't it? If we want something new, something old has to go. My tie rack only holds so many ties. So a new tie means an old one's getting donated. I only have so much room in my dresser, so new T-shirts mean that old beloved shirts from college sadly now become rags.
But sometimes, it's more than just making room. Sometimes new things just aren't compatible with the old. The new DVD player doesn't work with the old TV. And you can't put on a clean pair of shoes without taking the old pair off first. Sometimes getting something new, means drastically cutting out the old. There is no other option.
In our text for this morning, God through the Apostle Paul tells us that you can't have it both ways. You can't live like a pagan and be a Christian. The two just aren't compatible. When you know Christ, you think differently. What you want is different. What you want is whatever God wants. You change. And the old way of living has to go out to make room for the new way of life in Christ. Out with the old, in with the new. That's the message of our text for this morning from Ephesians 4:17-24…
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.
20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
I. Out with the Old
I once heard that natives in the Amazon have an interesting way to hunt monkeys. Maybe you've heard about it? They take a narrow-mouthed jar and tie it firmly to a tree. Then they drop a few nuts inside the jar. The monkeys find the nuts and reach in to take them, but because the mouth of the jar is so narrow their hand, now balled into a fist around the nut, will no longer come out of the jar. And because the jar is tied to the tree and the monkey is unwilling to let go of the nut, the natives easily capture the monkeys.
How foolish, isn't it? The monkeys think the nut will make them happy, but they never get the nut! In fact, because they are unwilling to let go, the nut traps them and dooms to them to captivity or death.
That's the way Paul describes the futile thinking of the unbeliever. They pursue their own pleasure and happiness, but never really find the lasting happiness they seek. In fact, because all they care about is serving themselves, they're trapped; doomed to a life of captivity to sin and death.
In their darkened ignorance, they are alien from God, and grow insensitive in their sin. Like the alcoholic building tolerance and thus needing more and more drinks to get the same buzz, their consciences grow calloused, insensitive to old lusts, needed a bigger fix of sin to get the same thrill.
But it's nothing but a chasing after the wind, or like a marooned sailor drinking the salt water that promises to quench his thirst, but only dehydrates him more, driving him mad the more he drinks and eventually killing him.
What a sad picture Paul paints of those who live with the sole purpose of appeasing their sinful lusts and desires. But it's even more sad when we who call ourselves Christians do the same. And if we're honest with ourselves, every one of us have at one time or another sought to appease our sinful appetites, knowing that we'll only be left feeling guilty and disappointed if we do, that it will callous our consciences to bolder sins when we're done.
We too deserve to be trapped by the jar when we won't let go of some vice that just seems too fun to give up for Jesus. We too deserve to be doomed to a life of slavery to sin, and to an eternal death in hell.
In verse one, Paul urged us to change our thinking. But in verse 17 he insists. Why? Because he knew where such calloused sinning leads. Those "deceitful desires" (v.22) promise happiness, but they lead to misery. They promise heaven but lead to hell.
Paul didn't want to see that happen to the Ephesians. And God doesn't want to see that happen to us. So Paul cried, "No longer! I insist!" "So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking…"
They were to be out with the old way of living, out with the pagan lifestyle, out with the chasing after more and bigger sins to appease their sinful natures.
But they were also to be in with the new life in Christ; the new life that Paul had taught to them. "You, however, did not come to know Christ that way." You're not like this. You're different…
II. In with the New
The Ephesians understood that. At one point they were into sorcery and magic. They were into trying to control the elements and to control other people. They were into the Greek goddess Artemis, the many-breasted goddess of fertility. But that was before Paul came preaching the Good News of Jesus. When they came to faith, it was incompatible to continue to the old way of life and be a Christian. They had to go out with the old when they went in with the new. They burned about $4 million worth of sorcery books. They threatened to put the silversmiths out of business because they were no longer buying Artemis statues. And that was the way it was supposed to be.
That's the way it's supposed to be with us too. It's no different for us than it was for the Ephesians:
20 You… did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
You have come to know Christ. You have heard of him and know who Jesus is. You were taught in him and know what he's done for you. And it was done in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus—that is, the Holy Spirit created faith in your heart that understands and believes and trusts in what he's done for you, staking your eternity on Jesus.
And that faith will have an impact on the way you live. Make no mistake: Your good works do not earn you favor with God. But you have favor with God inspite of your rebellion because of Jesus. And because you have favor with God, you must thank him for what he's done. Your sanctification—your life of service to God—isn't optional. It's a natural byproduct of true faith. There's no such thing as a fire that doesn't produce heat. And there is no such thing as a love that doesn't act in some way to show that love. And there's no such thing as a genuine faith in Christ that doesn't look for ways to serve him with good works. Faith alone saves. But saving faith is never alone.
So off with the old self and in with the new! What a foolish garden you would have if you reserved a corner of it grow weeds! What a foolish Christian one would be to harbor and nourish pet sins in their life! But also what a foolish garden you would have if you tried to pick every weed, but never planted any food! What a foolish Christian one would be to try to rid their lives of every sin, but never sought to nurture your faith or do good works of thanks! So pull the weeds of sin in your life! Radically break from your sinful past and ruthlessly take the old out! And look for as many opportunities as you can to do good works! Plant the seed of the gospel in the lives of others. Or support that work as you look for ways to do good works of faith for your Savior!
You are being made new! And notice the passive voice—it's not something you do, but something God works in you. He works this new life through faith and he strengthens that faith by the Word. And he gives not just new life, but a new attitude—one that views works of service to God not as a "have to," but as a "get to," as I thank Jesus for the abundance he's given me, as I use what he's given not just to serve myself in this life, but to do what I can to grow the Kingdom for the life to come.
Out with the old. Quit those pet sins. Take them out back and shoot 'em. Then bury them. Get radical in weeding out your vices. Then you'll have room for the new—for the new life in Christ that's being renewed in the image of God. Go live the life you know Jesus wants you to live as you thank him for the way he lived and died and rose for you.
Will the Guenthers be getting a new kitchen appliance? Maybe. Maybe not. That's yet to be seen. But will you and I all live a new life and put the old aside? There's no question about that! In thanks to God for what he's done for us in Christ and for leading us to faith in Christ, we will do all we can to live for him. Out with the old—the old sins, the old way of thinking, the old life—and in with the new—new thoughts of living for him, new behavior as we do, new goals as we look for ways to please our Savior instead of ourselves.
Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, dear saints, as you continue to strive for "Out with the old and in with the new!" In his name, dear friends, amen.
Monday, August 3, 2015
A sermon based on Ephesians 4:1–7, 11–16
Sunday, August 2, 2015 – Pentecost 10B
If you haven't read the book, I'm sure you've seen one of the many movies based on the book by Alexander Dumas entitled, "The Three Musketeers." Of course you also know the motto of the heroes of the story: "All for one and one for all." By this, they meant that each member of the three musketeers would fight for the group or for anyone in the group. They were vowing to stand by each other's side in their common fight.
In a sense, that's what the Apostle Paul is getting at in our passage of Scripture for today. He was trying to get the Ephesians to adopt as their motto: "All for one and one for all." And he motivated them in this commitment to unity by showing them God's commitment to them.
So today as we too adopt a motto for ourselves at Grace Lutheran in Kenai, we flip it around. Instead of "All for one and one for all," we first remember God's commitment and sacrifice for us as we adopt the motto, "One for all and all for one." The portion of God's Word we meditate on this morning is found in Ephesians 4, verses 1-7 and continuing from 11 to 16…
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
I. One for All
Now, you may already know this, but in the 3 Musketeers, the hero of the story isn't even one of the 3. Monsieur d'Artagnan is the main character who meets the 3 Musketeers and must duel all three in a single day. After he fights them he earns their respect, eventually joins the Musketeers as their leader, and gives them the motto: "All for one and one for all."
But while d'Artagnan had to fight hard to be included and no longer considered an outsider, that's not the way it worked for the Ephesians or the way it worked for us. Instead, One did the work for all. Paul alluded to that in verse 1 when he said "then I urge you to live a life worthy…" "Then" could also be translated "therefore," and you know that whenever you see "therefore," you need to back up to find out what it's there for. In verse 1 Paul is making a shift from the first half of the book where he described God's grace, to the second half which calls for our response. But with that little word, "then," or "therefore," he's reminding us all what the One did for all.
So let's do a quick review of the book of Ephesians so far…
- God has given us all spiritual blessings through Jesus - Eph. 1:3.
- God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world - Eph. 1:4.
- God has determined that we will be like Jesus, and with Jesus, one day - Eph. 1:5; 11-12.
- God has made us accepted in Jesus - Eph. 1:6.
- God provided the blood of Christ that washed us from our sins - Eph. 1:7.
- God reached out to us when we were dead in our sins and headed to Hell - Eph. 2:1-4.
- God loved us when we were hostile to him. - Eph. 2:4.
- God gave us life when we were dead. - Eph. 2:5.
- God has secured our future. - Eph. 2:6-7.
- God has secured our salvation, even giving us faith. - Eph. 2:8-9.
- God has given us a new life in Jesus and new purpose in him. - Eph. 2:10.
- God has brought Jews and Gentiles together in Jesus - Eph. 2:11-18.
- God has made a new race of people from those who believe the Gospel. - Eph. 2:19-22.
- God desires to use us, bless us and teach about the divine mystery of His everlasting grace and love - Eph. 3:1-21.
All of these great truths teach us about who we are in Jesus, and about all that the Lord has given to us through His grace. And he means to remind us about it all with that simple word, "then." And he sums it all up in verse 4: "You were called to one hope."
And you know what that one hope is: That through Jesus' perfect life and once-for-all sacrifice on the cross, our sins are forgiven. His one sacrifice won eternal life for us who are so quick to bail on him. As the author to the Hebrews put it, "He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself." (Hebrews 7:27) And, "he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption." (Hebrews 9:12)
So we rejoice in the One for all, in the One who lived and died and rose for all. We rejoice in and in his once for all sacrifice that guarantees our place in heaven with him. We are one with God and we didn't have to fight to be included or to earn God's respect. Jesus fought for us. He fought for all.
When Paul uses the word "then" or "therefore," he is reminding us about everything he has previously written. But "therefore" does more than just point back, it also calls for a response, "therefore" means because of this previous, what follows is what you ought to do. Paul is telling us that us that everything he has already written calls for a certain response. His once for all sacrifice moves us to rededicate our lives to him and promise him, "One for all… and all for one," as we all vow to live for him. "And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." (2 Corinthians 5:15) And how do we live for him? Well, that's what Paul's getting at here:
II. All for One
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. God through Paul says that we are to strive for Peace. To be the one body that he's made us. And that, in spite of our differences: "But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it… It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers…"
Have you ever seen a Three Musketeers movie? It's one of the first movies I remember watching (of course, the version I watched featured Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy as the Three Musketeers). And I remember learning how animation worked. Still images are drawn, with each one slightly different from the last, then played back so quickly, that you think they're moving. That's how it works with any movie. In fact, it's called a "movie" which is short for "moving pictures." Of course, the pictures don't really move. They're just shown in such rapid succession that our brains don't view them as separate images, but as one moving scene.
So think about it: Each frame of the movie is separate and distinct. They may look similar at times, but no two frames are ever exactly alike. Some are darker, some are lighter. Some are filled with action, others just set the scene. But put them all together and they make a wonderful story. And every frame is important to the movie as a whole.
That's sort of the way that Paul describes the Church. We may all serve different functions, some may be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, others may be God's people doing works of service, but we're all a part of the same body. We are many parts, but have one head. We have many different jobs, but we are all one Church. We all serve in different ways, but we all serve the One God. "All for One." We all live for him who died for us.
So be content in your vocation—in your job, but also in your station in life as a mother or father, son or daughter, husband or wife, as citizen, as church member, as Christian. And carry out your role in any one of those vocations to the best of your ability, as if serving God himself, because that's who really are serving. Do this all out of love for the One who died for all, as we all now live for him. One for all… and now all for One.
And the result? We will all be built up and will grow up. Ever see the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks, where he's being tossed around by a huge storm? Can you imagine if instead of Tom Hanks in that raft, it were a little baby? How long do you think that baby would last? That's the way that Paul describes us if we try to do this "Christian" thing alone: like "infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming."
But we're not alone. We have each other just like the Three Musketeers had each other. And together we will all become mature. "We will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." We will, "[grow] and [build] [each other] up in love, as each part does its work."